How much food did you have to throw away on bin night last week? If you're anything like the average Aussie, it was far too much.
"People want to blame supermarkets and industry for waste, but actually the majority of waste comes from our households," says Ronni Kahn, OzHarvest founder and CEO. "Two and half million tonnes a year comes from our homes."
In fact, 900 million tonnes, or a third of all food produced in Australia, goes to waste. It's a major contributor to climate change, being responsible for 8-10 per cent of global greenhouse gases. That's more than extracting oil and producing plastic put together. That means, if food waste were a country, it would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the USA.
900 million tonnes, or a third of all food produced in Australia, goes to waste.
If those statistics makes you shudder, they should. Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction, Trevor Evans says reducing food waste has significant sustainability benefits. "No one likes wasting food, but the reality is that most of us do and 70 per cent of the food we waste is perfectly edible. The research shows the simple but effective act of using food up could save the average household enough for a holiday each year."
A timely reminder to Use It Up
This is exactly why OzHarvest has teamed up with Monash Sustainable Development Institute's BehaviourWorks Australia to launch Use It Up, a range of tools, recipes and tips that will show people how simple changes in the kitchen can have a huge impact.
"We cannot watch what’s happening to our planet and wait for someone else to fix it," says Kahn. "Tackling food waste in our homes is the low-hanging fruit… it’s the single most powerful action [we] can take to combat climate change."
Make it obvious
Mark Boulet, a research fellow at BehaviourWorks Australia, also suggests having a shelf or an area in the fridge or pantry where food that needs to be used up lives. "The food that needs to be used up is actually noticeable, and you're reminded to use it..." he says. "Getting your family onboard and a bit of planning will also relieve some of the mental effort that's involved."
70 per cent of the food we waste is perfectly edible.
A key item in the Use It Up toolbox is a roll of recycled paper tape, printed with messages like "pick me", "use me" and "eat me up", designed to remind households to keep eating their leftovers and excess veggies.
"I wasted too much food. I’d over-buy at the supermarket not realising I already had the ingredients in my jammed up fridge shelves," says Use It Up Ambassador and self-confessed 'crap housewife' Jessica Rowe. "Since I started using the tape in the fridge it has made me rearrange my fridge and I can clearly see what I have and what is ready to be used up. Now I’m wasting far less food!"
From waste to want
That change involves moving from throwing out food waste, to using up every bit. There are plenty of ways to do this - see tips at the end of this article - but the most effective way of all is to use up food before it becomes waste. There's an army of recipes that makes eating every bit of the food you buy easy as, well, pie.
Grab the recipe here.
In fact, wrapping leftover meat, veggies and fruit (probably not all together) in pastry is a no-brainer way to use everything in your fridge. Pastry brings anything and everything together in magical ways.
"My Use It Up advice is you don’t always need a recipe, just experiment with your cooking – your family will tell you what works!" says OzHarvest Chef Ambassador Colin Fassnidge.
These popular vegetarian savoury pasties make for great picnic affair in the Balearics in Spain, made with any combination of local seasonal vegetables.
Squeaked and curried
Pie is good, but bubble and squeak is OzHarvest Chef Ambassador Neil Perry's waste saviour. "A jazzed-up version of bubble and squeak is my go-to recipe as it’s something my Dad always used to cook and you can use up most of what you have in the fridge!”
The beauty of a recipe like a bubble and squeak is that you're using whatever you have on hand, so it tastes like a slightly different version of yum every time you make it.
If food waste were a country, it would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.
Curries are good for that, too. You can add any kind of vegetable to an existing curry recipe for a slightly different flavour each time. Throw in some diced carrot, shredded cabbage or some cauliflower florets after you soften your onions and before you brown the meat.
For a vegetarian version, the world's your broccoli - pop in any vegetable you need to move along and the curry sauce will bring it all together just fine.
Get the recipe here.
Change habits, not climate
Boulet believes that Use It Up has the biggest potential to shift the dial on food waste at home. "Families immediately notice that they save both food and money," he explains.
Once you get into a rhythm, using up the food you've bought becomes second nature and you'll wonder why you used to let so much good food go to waste.
"What the tape has done is make us more mindful as a family about what we waste and what we need to use," says Rowe. "My youngest daughter is an eco-warrior and she has been urging all of us to use less and she is especially pleased about our new fridge set up!"
Grab the recipe here.
For Kahn, who has been fighting food waste for 17 years, it always comes back to building a sense of urgency around climate change. Australia target of halving food waste by 2030 is looming fast and big changes need to happen to get us there.
"People are blown away when they learn the number one thing they can do to take climate action starts right now in their kitchen!" says Kahn. "Reducing the amount of food we waste is something we are all able to do."
More tips to ditch the food waste
- Start meal planning so you stop buying what you don't need in the first place.
- Rowe suggests throwing everything onto a pizza. "I use a supermarket-bought pizza base, put pizza sauce topping on and then put everything I have in my use-it-up shelf," she says.
- Grow your own herbs and bush foods so you can pick exactly the amount you need.
- Turn scraps into eggs by keeping your own backyard chooks.
- Pickle your leftovers - it's not half as tricky as you probably think.
- Shred stale bread and add it to mince dishes for added nutrition and bulk.
- Start a worm farm to recycle the scraps you really can't eat.
- Compost anything else that's still left and your plants will thank you.
The beetroot give this whole pickled a beautiful purple hue. Be sure to start a week before you plan to serve this, as a rush job won't do.
While I love this vegetable soup as is, you can easily add chicken or beef to the pan after you’ve cooked the onions, or you could lightly grill any type of seafood and add it the soup 5 minutes before the end of cooking.
This Japanese savoury pancake recipe comes from Cornersmith chef Tutu. It’s a take on okonomiyaki and is a staple on our cafe menu and a favourite for us at home. ‘Okonomi’ roughly translates to ‘as you like it’, making this the perfect master recipe to swap in and out what you like or what you need to use up!
This tea loaf recipe is a staple at the Cornersmith cafe and in our kitchens at home. We love it because you can throw in any grated fruits or vegetables, any nuts, seeds or choc chips and any spices you need to use up and it always works.
A rich veggie ragu and a top of bubbling cheese make veggie lasagne one of the ultimate comfort foods. Always perfect with a green salad and some crusty bread.
There’s almost no chopping in my favourite easy vegetable soup: a grater does it in a quarter of the time. So easy.